The Mosaic Law refers to the laws and commandments that God gave to the people of Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai after leading them out of slavery in Egypt. The Law is found primarily in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. It provided the Israelites with instructions for how to live as God’s chosen people and maintain a right relationship with Him. Understanding the purpose and role of the Mosaic Law is important for properly interpreting the message of the Bible.
To Reveal God’s Holy Nature and Character
A primary purpose of the Mosaic Law was to reveal the holy and righteous character and nature of God (Leviticus 11:44-45, Leviticus 19:2, Leviticus 20:7-8). By giving the Israelites commands and precepts to follow, God was teaching them His values and what pleases Him. The laws revealed God’s concern for justice, mercy, purity, and faithfulness. Keeping the Law by loving God and neighbor was how the Israelites could imitate His holy character and live set apart lives.
To Provide a Written Code and Standard for Israel
Prior to Mount Sinai, the law was passed down orally, but with the Mosaic Law, Israel now had a written code and standard to live by. This provided a clear outline for conduct, worship, and state policy. Having written laws and commands helped unite the newly freed Israelite nation around a common way of life centered on God’s revealed will. The Law provided practical guidance for living in covenant relationship with Yahweh and for maintaining justice and order in their new society (Exodus 18:15-16).
To Reveal Sin and Turn People to God
A third purpose of the Law was to define sin and reveal human inability to obey God perfectly (Romans 3:20, Romans 7:7). The Law served as a tutor or guardian that exposed sin and helped people see their need for God’s mercy and salvation by faith (Galatians 3:24). The sacrificial system also provided a way to atone for sin and get right with God. So the Law simultaneously revealed human sinfulness while providing a means of dealing with sin and staying in relationship with the Lord.
To Distinguish Israel from Neighboring Nations
The Law helped distinguish Israel from surrounding Pagan nations. Rules about circumcision, dietary restrictions, Sabbath observance, and religious festivals set Israel apart as God’s covenant people. Regulations for farming, sanitation, disease control, communal life, tithing, etc. reflected God’s wisdom over pagan practices. So the Law marked out Israel as a separate and holy nation belonging to Yahweh (Deuteronomy 4:6-8, Deuteronomy 7:6).
To Foreshadow Christ and Prepare for the Gospel
While the Law’s commands were binding on Israel, it also served to foreshadow the person and work of Jesus Christ. Regulations about sacrifice, cleansing, holiness, and redemption pictured core truths of the Gospel. God’s work through Israel and the Law prepared the way for the coming of the Messiah. So the Law served as a guardian and protective fence keeping Israel intact until the arrival of God’s ultimate deliverer, Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:23-25).
To Instruct in God’s Ways and Promote Wisdom
Another purpose of the Mosaic Law was to instruct Israel in God’s ways and teach wisdom (Deuteronomy 4:5-6). The various laws and regulations served as object lessons and practical guidelines for living faithfully as God’s people. They addressed important aspects of everyday life and taught the fear of the Lord, honesty, humility, justice, compassion, holiness, and more. Keeping the Law enabled the nation to enjoy God’s blessings, while disobedience led to curses and judgment.
To Govern Israel’s National/Corporate Life
The Law provided foundational legislation for governing Israel’s national and corporate life as a theocratic covenant nation. It addressed all aspects of Israel’s existence – moral, social, economic, political, and religious. Laws regulated worship practices, appointed leaders, assigned tribal territories, governed cities of refuge, managed infectious skin diseases, settled property disputes, facilitated inheritance rights, dictated taxation policies, and much more. The Law established Israel as a holy theocracy under God’s rule.
To Establish the Terms of God’s Covenant
The Mosaic Law outlined the terms of God’s covenant agreement with Israel. After graciously redeeming them from slavery, God gave Israel His laws and commanded they obey them in order to receive blessing in the Promised Land. Therefore, keeping the Law became the proper response to God’s covenant grace. The blessings and curses attached to the Law outlined the benefits for obedience and consequences for disobedience under the covenant (Deuteronomy 28). So the Law set forth the stipulations of the covenant relationship.
To Provide a Way to Worship, Serve, and Fellowship with God
The tabernacle, priesthood, sacrifices, offerings, festivals, and purity laws provided Israel with a way to worship, serve, and fellowship with the living God. By following God’s instructions, they could draw near to Him, experience His presence, receive atonement for sins, express gratitude, commune joyfully, and live out faith in community. The Law gave instruction and boundary markers for properly relating to God through worship as His treasured possession.
To Establish Israel’s Religious Calendar and Cycle of Feasts
The Law established Israel’s yearly religious calendar marked by special Sabbaths, holy convocations, and major festivals like Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. This religious calendar was designed by God to shape the rhythm of Israel’s corporate life around the remembrance of His gracious acts in redemption and provision. The feasts commemorated His deliverance, guidance, and blessings. They called for reflection, gratitude, consecration, and hope in God’s promises remembered through the feast observances.
To Provide a Unified Constitution for Israel’s Theocratic Nation
As a newly formed nation without a king, Israel needed a constitution to direct its civil and religious life together. So God gave Israel the perfect constitution in the form of the Mosaic Law code. This provided a unified legal framework for Israel’s fledgling theocratic nation to guide development of its communal infrastructure and societal relationships. The Law addressed all aspects of Israel’s existence – from worship to agriculture to economics to justice. God was their ultimate king and the Mosaic Law was His comprehensive “constitution” for Israel’s new national life.
To Protect Israel from Pagan Influence and Destructive Sin
Another purpose of the Mosaic Law was to protect Israel from harmful external influences and destructive internal sins. Coming out of pagan Egypt, Israel was prone to syncretism and idolatry. God knew this inclination and many laws functioned to safeguard Israel’s exclusive loyalty and holy living. Rules about idolatry, intermarriage with pagans, child sacrifice, sorcery, sexuality, and mixing fabrics helped insulate Israel from the influence of neighboring nations. Obedience brought protection and purity.
To Provide Foundations for Civil Law and Justice
The Mosaic Law provided foundational legislation for Israel’s system of civil law, courts, and justice. Laws prohibited theft, governed inheritance rights, dictated fair business practices, established cities of refuge, required compassion for the vulnerable, and instituted principles for restitution. Judges were appointed to fairly settle disputes and Moses set up a system of appeals courts (Exodus 18). So God instituted justice, fairness, and legal order at the very foundations of Israelite society through the Mosaic Law.
To Teach Valuable Life Lessons Through Object Lessons
Embedded within the various laws were valuable object lessons and principles about human nature, leadership, relationships, responsibility, and more. For example, allowing servants freedom in the sabbatical years taught about treating laborers fairly. Rules about mildew taught the value of routinely checking for and dealing with hidden sin. Inheritance laws taught care and justice toward women and children. So the Law provided rich object lessons for wise living through the principles behind many decrees.
To Provide Order, Structure, Boundaries, and Continuity for Israel
The detailed laws provided crucial order, structure, healthy boundaries, and continuity for Israel’s national life. They helped transform Israel from an undisciplined rabble of ex-slaves into an orderly society with rules protecting people’s rights and property. The Law provided ethical boundaries and sanctions against murder, theft, adultery, false witness, greed, oppression, incest, and other evils that could tear the fabric of any society. God wisely built order into the foundations of Israel’s national and covenant existence.
To Demonstrate the Perfection of God’s Wisdom for Human Community
The comprehensive nature of the Law demonstrated the perfection and completeness of God’s wisdom for ordering human community. The Law addressed every sphere of Israel’s existence – personal, social, ethical, economic, political, and religious. God’s law was perfect and entirely adequate for guiding the nation into truth, justice, peace, and righteous living as His holy people. No detail escaped the scope of God’s wise instructions that led to holistic blessing when obeyed.
To Create a Holy People Set Apart for God’s Redemptive Plan
An overarching goal of the Law was to separate Israel from sin and set them apart as a holy nation dedicated to God’s redemptive purposes. God was forming a people through whom He would reveal Himself and bring forth the Messiah and Savior of the world. The Law helped shape and prepare Israel for this high calling. It made them distinct and helped guard God’s purpose until the fullness of time and the coming of Christ (Galatians 4:4-5). Through the Law, Israel became God’s holy covenant nation.
To Establish the Basis for God’s Relationship with National Israel
The giving of the Law to Israel as a nation established the terms for their unique relationship with God in the Old Covenant era. The Law formed the foundation for God’s rule over Israel, His dwelling among them, and the individual’s approach to God through the priesthood. Keeping the Law (even imperfectly) demonstrated loyalty to Yahweh and sustained the nation’s place as His elect covenant people. So God used the Mosaic Law system to interact with and relate to Israel on a national/corporate level.
To Provide an Imperfect Foreshadowing of Complete Salvation in Christ
While the Law was good, holy and served many important purposes, it could never provide full salvation for lost sinners. It served as an imperfect tutor pointing to ultimate salvation through Christ (Galatians 3:24). The animal sacrifices could never completely atone for humans made in God’s image (Hebrews 10:4). The Law made provision for moral failure without removing the stain of sin before a holy God. It foreshadowed the perfect sacrifice of Christ and the inward heart change only possible by God’s grace through faith in Jesus.
To Show the Impossibility of Earning Righteousness Through Works
A final purpose of the Law was to demonstrate the impossibility of earning one’s salvation through personal merit and good works. The Law required absolute, perfect obedience in thought, word, and deed – something no descendant of Adam could fully achieve. The Law ultimately showed human inability to merit salvation apart from grace. It served as a severe schoolmaster bringing people to Christ (Galatians 3:19-25). So God used the Law’s high demands to point to human inadequacy and need for a Savior.
In summary, the Mosaic Law served many good purposes within God’s wise plan of redemption. It revealed God’s nature and righteousness, exposed human sin, provided guidance and object lessons for wise living, established the terms of Israel’s covenant with Yahweh, provided for worship and atonement, instituted justice and civil order for the nation, separated Israel from pagan influence, and pointed forward to salvation by grace through faith in the Messiah – Jesus Christ.
While Christians are no longer bound by the ceremonial and civil law codes given to Old Covenant Israel, the moral principles behind the Law reflect God’s holy character and remain foundational for living righteously by faith in the New Covenant (Matthew 5:17-19, Romans 8:1-4). Through Christ, the Law’s perfect standard of righteousness is finally fulfilled in the lives of God’s people.